What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?
Jason Weisenthal is the CEO of Wall Monkeys, the world’s largest collection of print on demand wall graphics. Jason started Wall Monkeys in 2008 and by 2013 his business was making $2 million.
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Say Hi to Jason at wallmonkeys.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
INTRO: Hello everybody and welcome to the Success Harbor podcast with George Meszaros, where it’s all about making success happen for you.
Success Harbor: Hi everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Jason Weisenthal with me. Jason is the CEO of Wall Monkeys. Wall Monkeys prints custom wall graphics with the world’s largest collection of print-on-demand wall graphics. Welcome.
Jason Weisenthal: Hey George. Thanks for having me.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here Jason. You started Wall Monkeys in 2008. What inspired you to start this business and not something else?
Jason Weisenthal: Well, at the time, I’m not sure if you’re familiar, there’s a company called FatHead that sells wall decals of professional athletes and things like that and I didn’t want to put a famous athlete like Derek Geeter or Alex Rodriguez on my wall. I wanted a wall decal of my own child playing baseball and there was no one out there doing it so I started to look around and took all the steps necessary and realized that I could create the company that does this and start a business where, where no one existed.
Success Harbor: Okay and I read about you that you were a very good tennis player as a kid and, you know, at 12, you decided you were not great so you couldn’t make it a career, at least you thought you couldn’t make it a career. Instead, you, you chose your plan B which is to be an entrepreneur and you obviously managed to build a successful business at Wall Monkeys but what are some of the characteristics that helped you to become a successful entrepreneur? What made you, what makes you a great entrepreneur as opposed to somebody that is just trying to be?
Jason Weisenthal: You know, you can read a lot but I think there’s a part of being an entrepreneur that’s just built into your DNA which makes you different from being, say just, what I call a business owner. That ability to, to take risks and see the future and not, not be afraid to constantly try new things and adapt. You also have to have the personality that likes to lead other people as your business grows and, you know, you want your face out there. Those are all characteristics that are really important to being an entrepreneur.
Success Harbor: And what about risk, because I mean, it’s such a broad term. You know there’s too much, there’s not enough. I mean, how do you, how do you know what’s the right amount of risk you can tolerate as an entrepreneur? How do you measure that?
Jason Weisenthal: You know it depends on the decision that you’re making. Most of the time you know, there’s so much information out there for you to do research or for me a lot of it is following my gut. You know, the truly huge decisions are kind of further apart but in general, if, if it feels right to me, I don’t have a problem taking almost any risk. You know, I’m not going to risk my entire net worth in one decision but I’m never afraid to take a risk if I feel that it’s right. It’s my own money. I know that I’ll sleep well at night and if it works out great and if it doesn’t I’m the only one to blame and I’m fine with that. I like that, that setup.
Success Harbor: Ok. Now can you give us an idea of how Wall Monkeys works? You know, if I go to the website, what do I do, why do I go there and what is Wall Monkeys?
Jason Weisenthal: Ok, so thank you for asking that question. Wall Monkeys sells removable wall decals so they’re basically stickers but really high quality. They stick to virtually any surface and when you remove them they don’t leave a mark. You can move them again and again. On our site we have over 20 million images. Everything is printed on-demand so when you place an order, we print that order just for you. We have images from National Geographic, Geddy Images, Corbis. So we have everything from fine art, to pictures of animals to nursery decals. We also do lots of custom images for professional photographers, business logos, companies attending tradeshows. So, really, anyone that has a wall is, is potentially a customer. We have an image for, any use at all, any need.
Success Harbor: Okay. How much, how difficult is it for people to get the idea of what the site is about and how to use it because you know, this is not like buying a book or buying a pair of shoes online. You know this is something that’s a little bit different. Is it, is it an uphill battle or is it pretty easy for people to figure this out?
Jason Weisenthal: People are much more familiar with wall decals now. That’s definitely a great question. A year or two ago I might have given you a different answer but people do have a pretty good idea about the product and the sizing. We try to answer a lot of questions on the description page. We also have images, in-room views, so we try to put all the pieces in place for the customer to feel confident and understand their purchase.
Success Harbor: Okay and do you have recurring business? I mean, for me as a business owner, I’ve owned my own business for over 10 years too and I love recurring revenue. Is this something that is important to you as a business, do you, do you have recurring revenue?
Jason Weisenthal: We do. We’re actually working on the portions of our business that give us recurring revenue which would be our business-to-business customers, the retailers that we sell to that change displays seasonally, companies that attend trade shows. Those types of customers are customers that we’re focusing on much more heavily than the regular retail customer which doesn’t repeat nearly as often.
Success Harbor: And in terms of driving business to your website, what are, what are your top strategies or tactics for that?
Jason Weisenthal: We’ve put an awful lot of energy in the past few months and it’s going to continue on our blog. A smart blog strategy and we use Hub Spot to manage that, works really well. We have 20 million images which create lots and lots of web pages so we spend a lot of effort creating the proper categories and subcategories making sure that they’re optimized to be found by Google and then we also spend quite a bit of money on Google shopping and Google ad words.
Success Harbor: Okay. Now tell me, you started back in 2008. Tell me some of the early challenges, let’s say the first 12 months of being in business.
Jason Weisenthal: Everything was a challenge. I was in the shoe business. I was entrepreneurial but I knew nothing about printing. I knew nothing about graphic design so every single thing I had to learn: what equipment, what printers and then I had to test material and find what materials worked best. It wasn’t a time when like Shopify or ZenCart was around. We had to custom build a website and had to find someone to do that for us. Every single thing, literally every single thing was a challenge down to the packaging.
Success Harbor: Okay. Now a big mistake that was a great learning experience for you, can you, what comes to mind first?
Jason Weisenthal: My biggest mistake was thinking, assuming, there was no one doing this business and I knew it was a great idea that people wanted to put their kids on the wall playing sports but at that time the camera resolution wasn’t very good and the technology wasn’t there. People weren’t as tech savvy, even to upload the images and like find their image on their camera or get it from the camera unto their computer. We didn’t sell nearly as much product because people weren’t technologically ready for it, even if they wanted it. That was a major assumption, something that I overlooked, that really cost us a lot of money. We didn’t make much money the first two years. So what was it? Was it smart phones or just the internet maturing in general?
Jason Weisenthal: Yeah. It was a combination of, you know, the phones got better, the cameras got better. People were just online more, like you know, with social media, you didn’t have that 30 something, 40 something Mom wasn’t really on the computer at all and then as time went on, her phone got better, her camera got better. She knew how to take the pictures off and upload them to our website so it was just the maturation of and the acceptance of ecommerce, the maturation of people getting online. It all just helped our business as time went on. It made things easier.
Success Harbor: Now can you give us an idea about the size of your business in terms of how many people work for you, maybe. You talked about the number of images but maybe the number of orders you produce, revenue, any of that you can share with me.
Jason Weisenthal: Sure. We outsource things like IT and some other technical aspects. In house we have 7 employees. We ship in the neighborhood of 3000 plus packages a month. You know, at least 100 orders a day go out. They can vary anywhere from, as cheap as 10 or 12 dollars to corporate orders can be say anywhere from between 5 to 15,000 dollars. It just depends.
Success Harbor: Okay. And, can you share the revenue. I read an article on business news daily about 2013 revenue. Is that okay to share here? If not, you know, let me know.
Jason Weisenthal: It’s out there. You can share it.
Success Harbor: Okay. So I saw 2 million for 2013. Is that correct?
Jason Weisenthal: Yeah that’s correct.
Success Harbor: Okay. And the business is growing still right?
Jason Weisenthal: The business is growing. We’re about to introduce a couple new products, but one in particular that I think is really going to help revenue so aside from everything being the wall decal, the traditional wall decals, we’re introducing a new product that I think is going to add a lot of revenue to our company pretty fast.
Success Harbor: Can you talk about that or it’s kind of a secret until you release it?
Jason Weisenthal: I can tell you. I think we’re far enough down the road. We haven’t put it, we haven’t launched it yet but we’re about to launch removable wall paper and we’re printing on a material that no one else is printing on at this time. It’s thicker and higher quality than any of our competitors and it’s going to have the same characteristics as our wall decals. It’s a thicker, more canvas-like material. It’ll cover blemishes on the wall. It’ll cover dark colors on the wall and we’re going to launch with probably about 1000 patterns that are all, just good quality patterns that the people are going to find attractive. It’s going to be the highest quality removable wall paper you can purchase.
Success Harbor: Wow. It sounds like you could create a new room pretty easily on a regular basis for you with that.
Jason Weisenthal: You can. We’ve tested our competitors’ products and they’re thin and they are removable but they’re difficult to work with because they’re so thin and the time savings alone on installation with our material is going to make it so attractive and time is money and you’ll be able to hang an entire wall in 15, 20 minutes.
Success Harbor: You know, based on what you’ve been telling me, it’s kind of surprising how high tech and how technology involved your business is. Can you talk about the learning curve involved with that because to me it sounds like you know, an image, printer and then you ship it but you know it sounds, you know a whole lot more complicated than that. Can you talk about that a little bit, how you learnt about the technology, what it takes, the testing and some of that?
Jason Weisenthal: Sure, I mean, everything and again it’s part of being like this type A, wound up entrepreneur. I mean you just devour. You learn, learn, learn; you don’t stop until you feel you know it but when it came to the printers back then, I hired someone who worked with those machines so he taught me and that’s what you do, you hire somebody who’s the best. Same thing with the website, but the technology side, we, we have a ton of technology. We have millions of images and we manage all of them. We can send them. We can pick and choose which images we send to our website, which ones we send to Amazon, which ones we send to Google shopping. We could change prices, descriptions. We have a server and a custom program that took thousands of hours of programing that allows us to make changes, across hundreds of thousands and millions of images that, that no one else can do to the best of my knowledge.
Success Harbor: Oh wow. What is, can you share maybe the greatest high that you have in business and, and the greatest low and the reason I want to talk about this is because being an entrepreneur is kind of a roller coaster ride and for a lot of people it’s very hard to deal with and maybe if you could talk about it that would help our audience.
Jason Weisenthal: Sure. There’s always lows you know, especially if you start a company or if you’re an entrepreneur working solo, it can be very lonely. When I started with Wall Monkeys I still had my shoe business but I ended up closing the shoe business, not long after and I was running Wall Monkeys out of my basement and aside from, we got an initial flurry when we started but we had one summer in particular the orders were coming in very, very slow and I didn’t have, and I didn’t have my other business that I used to go to every day so I was almost making no money and I didn’t have anyone to really talk about, talk, talk about the business with so it would’ve been very easy to get discouraged and give up ,but I kept trying new things and trying to target different markets you know, and obviously things worked out because we’re doing well right no but to stick with it when it’s tough is a characteristic that you have to have, like you can’t give up unless you really feel that you picked the wrong business then that’s a different story. As far as highs go, I’d have to say it was probably not the Christmas that just passed, but the Christmas before that, so the Christmas of 2012. That was the first Christmas when we really had our explosive growth and we had so many tubes shipping to, so many orders going out the door one day that I just was so filled with pride and joy that that many people loved what we were doing. That, that was like my moment where I felt like, okay, this is a real business, like you’re making real money. There’s not a lot of people out there that’s shipping this much stuff.
Success Harbor: Say, so was that the point when you felt that you made it with Wall Monkeys?
Jason Weisenthal: I think that Christmas was our tipping point. Our volume went from you know, kind of a nice volume to numbers that were impressive I think no matter how you were looking at it.
Success Harbor: Had you ever considered giving up with Wall Monkeys?
Jason Weisenthal: No, I never did and someone had asked me the same question I don’t know a few weeks ago and I think part of the reason was, I didn’t have a better idea and I still so firmly believed that I was right. Even though I wasn’t making money, I just felt in my gut I was going to find the right angle for this business and as long as I had that same feeling of confidence and knowing that I was going to get it, it was just a matter of time. I, no I never really thought about giving up.
Success Harbor: Good. Okay. Now what do you think is the biggest time waster for entrepreneurs, people that you see in business, either that are starting or that are running businesses? What do you think is the, the, is just a big waste of their time?
Jason Weisenthal: Email.
Success Harbor: Email
Jason Weisenthal: I think people look at their email too often, I think people spend too much time on email you know. Somebody told me and it’s true, email is somebody else’s agenda. It’s not your agenda. If you have your list of 3 most important things you’re going to do today, that’s never going to be in your inbox. Your inbox is somebody else’s stuff. I think people need to visit their email much less often and keep their replies much shorter.
Success Harbor: So what do you do? Do you look at your email maybe once or twice a day, or, or what is your, how do you do email?
Jason Weisenthal: Even though it’s probably not the best idea I do usually attack my email in a burst, like first thing in the morning. I wake up really early. Usually I pour my coffee and try and eliminate as many as I can and then I focus on my top 3 things for the day. I had a, I had a point that just slipped my head. Oh, I know what I was going to say. One of the things that’s really helped me was to figure out when I’m most productive, meaning if I need to write content or if I need to write a blog or whenever is going to require my most creative energy I know that that time for me is in the morning, it’s like sometime between 6 am and 11 am and once I hit about 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon I can still work but I’m not going to have that same level of productivity. Somebody else might be productive at night. I think it’s really important for entrepreneurs to understand when their most productive, get their most, best work done in those times, like embrace that and then don’t fight it when you’re not in the zone.
Success Harbor: Okay. I want to talk about differentiating businesses. You mentioned when you started out that there was pretty much no one that did what you do but I wouldn’t be surprised if since 2008, other people figured it out that this is a good business so how do you differentiate yourself from the others? You know, online especially it’s very difficult because a lot of people just have a website to look at.
Jason Weisenthal: Right. Well our content one is, is key. I don’t know of anyone else that has as many images and as many content partners as we do and then the quality we deliver. We print on a premium material; it has fabric in it. Other companies are printing on vinyl that’s cheaper and our customer service and the way we cater to our customer. We try to do everything possible to make them feel special and let them know that the product is custom-made for them and it’s made in the USA. It’s the selection, it’s the quality and it’s the service. I think it’s those three things put together that differentiate us.
Success Harbor: If somebody came to you, maybe somebody from your family or one of your best friends that had a job and looked at you and said, “you’re very successful in your business, I want to become an entrepreneur,” what would be the first thing that you would teach them?
Jason Weisenthal: The first thing I would teach them. Well the first thing I would ask them is if they have any good ideas? I would make them write down every day, ten ideas until they come up with one that they’re passionate about and then I’d probably hand them several business books, entrepreneur books to, to read and just, see and ask them questions to see if they have a feel, if they have the characteristics and the traits that are required because I do believe that a lot of things can be taught but being a true entrepreneur, it’s like you’re personality, either you have it or you don’t.
Success Harbor: Okay. Where do you see Wall Monkeys in the next 5 years? If you could draw Wall Monkeys as, as you really would really it to be as a business, what would it look like?
Jason Weisenthal: It would have the same print-on-demand business model we would just have a much larger reach. I envision our wall paper line being larger than the wall decal business which is actually the whole company right now. There would probably be a couple other new products launched across the way. Maybe we would have half a dozen or 8 products total providing the same top quality in every product that we offer with the same customer service and attention to detail so it would be similar just a larger organization with the same focus on quality.
Success Harbor: If, if you had a chance to talk to yourself back in 2008 just when you were starting Wall Monkeys, what would you say to yourself?
Jason Weisenthal: Get content. Yeah we started the business and it was all custom. You had to upload an image whether it was a business logo or a picture of your child and people weren’t fully ready for that. I should have, I wish I would have started with, even if it was like simple clip art, little pictures of animals and things, any type of content that people could order as well. Decals that would’ve helped our revenue and I would’ve struggled for a shorter period of time.
Success Harbor: Okay, You mentioned a, books as a learning tool for my earlier question. Can you give me maybe one or 2 books that you think were really beneficial for your business?
Jason Weisenthal: I think that book, books are beneficial for my personality. I don’t know like specifically the business, like when I was younger I read the Millionaire Next Door and I felt that that was really beneficial for me. It was about how to handle your money and how to be conservative. I needed to be very conservative when I started Wall Monkeys. A book that I read recently that, that I think your listeners would enjoy is called Choose Yourself by James Altucher. That’s a fantastic book for, for a budding entrepreneur.
Success Harbor: Yeah I love James’ blog. I’ve been reading it for years so. He’s a great guy I think. Now who inspires you in business? Anyone that you look up to and say, this person has really got it together in business and you know I’m not saying you would like to emulate them but somebody that you would, that you learn from?
Jason Weisenthal: Jeeze that’s a really good question. You know, Tony Hsieh you have to admire. I’ve met him, personality wise I don’t think he’s very charismatic, but the way he runs that business is impossible to not admire and his focus on customer service and culture so him for sure and I’ve never met him but I read a lot about Richard Branson and the things that he does and the way he treats people and the way he enjoys and loves his life, pretty much everything he does is admirable.
Success Harbor: Great, do you have any last words of business for someone that wants to take their business to the next level or somebody that just wants to start a business?
Jason Weisenthal: Yeah. Well for the person that wants to start the business, what I always tell people is just do it, like ready, aim, fire. Too many people talk about ideas, and they aim, aim, aim and they have excuses about why they can’t do it today or next month or the next 6 months. The time is never perfect or your courage; you need to just do it. And then for the, for the people that are already running their business is something I try to do myself is step outside your comfort zone and push yourself to make a bigger investment, take an extra risk, like you have to be uncomfortable to grow so make yourself uncomfortable.
Success Harbor: How can people connect with you Jason?
Jason Weisenthal: They can email me, [email protected] I’m on LinkedIn, same name. They can also follow me on Facebook if they wanted to but direct connect, email would be the best.
Success Harbor: So be sure to check out wallmonkeys.com, that’s Wall Monkeys and Jason, I really, really appreciate you taking the time. It was very, very educational and I appreciate it.
Jason Weisenthal: George, thanks for having me. It was fun.
Success Harbor: Thank you.
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